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5 seek 3 seats on BOE

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Five candidates, including two incumbents, are seeking three seats on the Kearny Board of Education in the Nov. 4 election.

The filing deadline for the election was July 28 and five people submitted nominating petitions to run for three-year terms, according to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, which has the statutory authority to register candidates.

Incumbents John Plaugic, a detective in the Kearny Police Department, and retiree Sebastian “Zibbie” Viscuso are seeking re-election to their seats while incumbent John Leadbeater, slated to go to trial in December for his alleged role in a $13 million federal mortgage fraud case, opted not to run. He has asserted his innocence in the matter.

Two challengers – Mercedes Davidson and James Hill – will be running as a “team” with Viscuso, according to Davidson. Neither Viscuso nor Hill, who sits on the Kearny Zoning Board of Adjustment, could be reached last week. Read more »

School brass roster shifting

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Looking ahead to the September schools opening, the Kearny Board of Education has undertaken a reshuffling of top-level district personnel, implementing an administrative reorganization recommended by Acting Superintendent Patricia Blood with an eye to cutting costs.

As part of that reorganization, the school board eliminated the position of assistant superintendent of schools. Debra Sheard had served in the post last year.

Sheard was appointed director of personnel and evaluation in the Perth Amboy school district at an annual salary of $120,000 on July 24, according to the Perth Amboy Board of Education website. Read more »

Fighting for veterans

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

NUTLEY – 

A delegation of the region’s veterans convened at the Nutley VFW to cheer news of the Senate’s passage of a bill designed to facilitate returning GIs’ access to health care, as announced by Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez.

The Senate voted 91-3 to move the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability & Transparency Act in the wake of stateside veterans’ long wait times for treatment at V.A. hospitals and falsification of records at the V.A.’s Phoenix, Ariz., facility.

According to a joint release by Menendez and Booker, the bill will fund $10 billion “to establish a Veterans’ Choice Fund to pay for eligible veterans [those living more than 40 miles from a V.A. clinic or those who have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment] to get private [non-V.A.] medical care,” $5 billion to hire more doctors and medical staff to expedite delivery of care to veterans, and authorization to build or expand 27 V.A. care centers in 18 states, including one in Brick, and Puerto Rico. Read more »

Hoping to extend access to riverfront

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

HARRISON – 

It may not compare with the breezes from the Jersey Shore but the Passaic River – albeit polluted – still offers some partial relief to urban grit.

But industrialization and development are obstacles blocking Harrison residents from getting to the riverbank, so the town is hoping to do something about that.

To that end, the mayor and Town Council have scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 12 at 6 p.m. in the assembly chambers at Town Hall, 318 Harrison Ave., on a proposed application for state Green Acres cash to acquire land targeted for a “public access waterfront walkway and park consistent with the Harrison Waterfront Development Plan.”

Mayor James Fife said that although the submission deadline for this cycle of Green Acres funding has passed, representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “have told us that if we have our public hearing by at least Aug. 15, we can still apply for this cycle.”

The area the town is looking to acquire is a 5.8-acre portion of what is listed on the tax map as Block 86, in part of the area designated as the Harrison Waterfront Redevelopment Area. The town owns a small section of land in the northwest corner (Lot 1.01) of Block 86 and the desired 5.8- acre vacant tract – owned by Hartz Mountain Industries – lies just south and east of it. Read more »

Serial-hoax suspect nabbed

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

LYNDHURST –

On Jan. 31, just two days before the Super Bowl, letters containing a white powder resembling anthrax spores were delivered to six hotels near MetLife Stadium, including two in Lyndhurst: the Quality Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, both located on Polito Ave.

Intensive pre-game security prompted a massive response by law enforcement, including HazMat teams that determined the powder was harmless.

Last week, authorities in Dallas announced the arrest of a 66-year-old man who allegedly mailed more than 500 such hoax letters to targets around the world since December 2008. The suspect, Hong Minh Truong, of Rowlett, Texas, has not yet been charged specifically with the New Jersey hotel threats, but he is thought to have been the culprit.

According to Special Agent Diego Rodriguez of the FBI’s Dallas Field Office, “For almost six years, letters containing white powder — and believed to have been mailed by the same individual — have elicited law enforcement and public safety responses from numerous local, state and federal agencies. While it was determined that the mailings did not contain toxins or poisons, each incident required a field screening of the letter’s contents, which cost taxpayer dollars and diverted first-responder resources.”

Rodriguez said, “We believe Hong Minh Truong is responsible for the hundreds of letters sent to locations worldwide, including U.S. government offices, aerospace companies, schools, daycares, and recently, hotels in the vicinity of Super Bowl XLVIII.”

A statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas noted: “The language used in the letters [mailed since 2008], as well as the method of sending the letters, indicate that one person, Truong, is responsible for sending all of the hoax letters. In all but two of the batches of letters, a white-powder substance was included in the envelope.” (“Batches” refers to allegations that Truong would mail between 10 and 40 letters at a time.)

The other Bergen County hotels that received letters in January were in Rutherford, East Rutherford, Carlstadt and Hasbrouck Heights.

Truong was arrested in Texas on July 28 by FBI agents and U.S. Postal Service inspectors. He is charged in a federal complaint with “false information and hoaxes.” Prosecutors reportedly could decide whether to press further charges.

If convicted on the current charges, Truong faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Authorities did not speculate on the suspect’s motives, but the federal complaint cites a 2002 Dallas Police Department report stating that Truong claimed: to “hear voices in his head,” that “the FBI, DEA, ATF and police are after him and beaming radar into his body,” and that “the voices are telling him to do things he does not want to do.”

Fire engine on auction block

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KEARNY – 

Want to buy a used fire truck?

You’ll have a chance to do so in Kearny when the town auctions off a 1990 Emergency- One Fire Engine on Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. at the Town Clerk’s office at the Municipal Building, 402 Kearny Ave.

No minimum bid is requested but a deposit equal to 10% of the bid is required.

Fire Chief Steven Dyl said the rig is “beyond its useful life” for departmental use. Read more »

Getting a leg (or ankle) up on crooked pols

It has been widely reported that the City of London is tackling hooliganism on the public streets triggered by repeated bouts of inebriation with a pilot program that compels offenders to wear an ankle tag that monitors their boozing.

The device is designed to measure the level of alcohol in the wearer’s perspiration every half hour and readings are transmitted to a base center for monitoring by a court officer.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was quoted as saying that, “Alcohol-fueled criminal behavior is a real scourge on our high streets, deterring law-abiding citizens from enjoying our great city, especially at night, placing massive strain on frontline services, while costing businesses and the taxpayer billions of pounds.”

This strategy has been applied, to a limited extent, on this side of the pond as well, though I’m unfamiliar with any research on how effective it has been in tamping down alcohol-induced misbehavior.

At any rate, as a form of public humiliation, an ankle bracelet rates pretty low on a scale of what passed for common forms of punishment meted out by Elizabethan-era authorities in not so Merry England and by our own Colonial forebears: branding (an early expression of public “advertising” of your crime with hot irons), nailing an offender’s ears to a wooden plank or even encasing a “scold” in an iron mask to silence her.

Not to mention public whippings, stocks and pillories for the types of crimes that might make even Tea Party members cringe. Or not.

Even today, our criminal justice system can still find ways to torture inmates through botched executions. Yes, in most instances, the person sentenced to death certainly merited the penalty for having committed heinous crimes but, in this country, there are constitutional restraints against “cruel and inhuman punishment.”

But I digress.

The notion of a very public reminder that points up the criminality of an elected official entrusted with the public’s welfare – and tax dollars – seems like an attractive alternative to sending the rascal out of the public eye for a prolonged period of time. It’s policy now in Pennsylvania that when a state legislator is found guilty of a crime, his or her official portrait on display in the capitol will be tagged with a “plaque” disclosing the nature of their unlawful activity.

That’s a reasonable move but, after all, how many folks – even in the Keystone State – are inclined to go out of their way to visit Harrisburg and see those plaques?

No, I think we need a much grander vision here – something guaranteed to keep Sen. Squirmy or Mayor Mendacity out in the public eye so we don’t forget what drove them to the abyss.

Otherwise, we end up with Buddy Cianci, the twice-convicted former mayor of Providence, R.I., who did time in prison for corruption charges, declaring on his radio show that he’s running for office again. After all, we can’t count on Buddy to recount his former misdeeds.

So, I have a small suggestion. Nothing makes the heart of your typical politician beat faster than when they’re out there giving a speech – or a filibuster – right?

Well, we should take the next public official found to have taken a bribe, misused campaign funds, steered a contract to a favored firm, or whatever, put them on a bus, and make scheduled stops in key cities to deliver a rousing stump speech to their former constituents, outlining the history of their missteps and asking forgiveness.

In a sense, it’s sort of like campaigning. They should feel right in their element.

Of course, they may well be heckled or pelted with trash by the crowds who turn out for this public penance but I guess that’s better than a turn in the stocks, right?

Oh, I forgot to mention, they should be wearing an ankle bracelet that will be programmed to electronically record their speech and take photos at each “campaign” stop to be transmitted back to their probation officer.

Now I realize all of this will require enormous public expense but the politicians themselves should be forced to foot the bill. Speech might be free, but there should be a price to pay for abusing the public trust.

– Ron Leir 

‘Charity scam’ in name of slain cop

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

How low can you go? Not much lower than what one man is accused of doing in the wake of the murder of Jersey City Detective Melvin Santiago. Namely, falsely soliciting donations for the officer’s grieving family.

Santiago, a 23-year-old rookie, was ambushed and fatally shot, in cold blood, July 13 after responding to a report of an armed robbery at a city Walgreens. He was posthumously promoted to detective, and on July 18 was laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington.

On Tuesday, July 29, Kearny police began receiving complaints about a man visiting businesses on the 700 block of Kearny Ave. to solicit donations for Santiago’s family. The initial search for him was fruitless, but he returned to town the following day.

At 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, Officer John Fabula spotted Darnell Campbell, 41, of Jersey City, at Kearny and Columbia Aves. Police said he was holding a donations container.

Under questioning by Fabula, Campbell reportedly claimed to be working for the Boys & Girls Club of Jersey City and said he was collecting money for a 5-year-old child who had been shot in that city.

Fabula contacted the club and was told that it does not solicit contributions in that manner. Police said the club representative also reported that it had received similar inquiries from Montclair.

Campbell was arrested and charged with wrongful impersonation and theft by deception. Police said he also had an outstanding warrant from East Brunswick. He was remanded to the Hudson County Jail on $1,000 bail, with no 10% option.

Authorities reported that he has a record of seven prior adult arrests, including three robbery charges, and two felony convictions. One of those convictions, police said, was for a rape in Georgia in 2001.

When the KPD confiscated Campbell’s donations canister, it contained $88.

Kearny Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer, “I will request forfeiture of that money. After the disposition of this case, I intend to ask the prosecutor and I will personally turn it over to Officer Santiago’s family, along with any other donations anyone wishes to make.”

Sprucing it up

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The state Department of Transportation is arranging for the sandblasting and repainting of this old railroad trestle that traverses the Belleville Turnpike (Rt. 7) just north of Seller St. It’s one of six bridges that cross Rts. 7, 21 and 185 – all state roads – that are getting facelifts under state maintenance contracts.

Red Bulls & SportsCare: perfect together

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HARRISON –

The New York Red Bulls, the major league soccer team based in Harrison, has contracted with the New York metropolitanbased SportsCare Institute to offer physical therapy and athletic training for the Red Bulls Academy and Training Program for young soccer talent, a joint press release announced July 30.

“The New York Red Bulls family is excited to partner with a local organization like SportsCare Institute,” said Marc de Grandpre, the team’s director of commercial operations. “SportsCare will provide our youth development programs and academy with terrific care, helping us continue developing great talent in the New Jersey area.”

As part of the partnership arrangement, SportsCare will have certified athletic trainers and physical therapists on-site at “multiple” Red Bulls youth clinics as well as at home matches “to assess injuries and offer free injury prevention screenings,” the release said.

SportsCare President Ron Lombardi said: “SportsCare’s network of physical therapy professionals are excited to work with another worldclass sports franchise.” The company also provides physical therapy services to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

“Given the excitement generated by the World Cup,” Lombardi added, “we’re more bullish than ever on youth soccer’s future in the U.S. And with our commitment to keeping young athletes safe – including a focus on establishing baseline assessments for those recovering from concussions – I’m confident our program with the Red Bulls can become a national model for health maintenance and protection.”

The agreement also makes SportsCare the exclusive physical therapy marketing partner of the Red Bulls, the release said.

No details about the terms of the agreement were provided in the release. A Red Bulls spokesman couldn’t be reached.

SportsCare says it has 56 facilities throughout New Jersey, New York and Florida that provide state-of-the-art physical and occupational therapy and sports medicine services.